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Featured Business — IMPACT of Southern Arizona, April 2024

“The great value of IMPACT is treating all people with dignity and respect,” says Barbara. “It is the cornerstone of what we do. No judgments are allowed here.”

Oro Valley’s One-Stop Miracle Shop

A pregnant woman walked into IMPACT of Southern Arizona in Catalina for the first time, looking embarrassed and uncomfortable. Asking for help is never easy.

The woman at the front desk beamed: “I felt exactly like you when I first walked in this door. You’ll never feel that way again. Next time you come here, you’ll feel like you are visiting family.”

A Family of Resources

IMPACT is much more than a food bank: it represents a large network of service providers, resources, and volunteers throughout greater Tucson. All you have to do is to walk through the front door at 3535 E Hawser St. in Catalina to get started.

IMPACT support comes in many surprising forms, such as:

  • Christmas gifts
  • A regular book program that allows seniors and children to build home a home library
  • A food bank that looks like a modern supermarket
  • Depression Anonymous support group
  • Mobile phones
  • Food during Title I school holidays
  • Nutritional education
  • Help obtaining an official ID
  • A clothing bank that looks like a modern boutique

A Quarter-Century of Service to the Community

IMPACT of Southern Arizona celebrates its 25th Anniversary in July, with an impressive profile:

  • 4,500 active clients
  • 12,400 clients served
  • 500 meals/week to homebound seniors (IMPACT meals)
  • 800 families in Pima & Pinal County currently served by food bank each month (½ in each county)
  • 50,000 pounds of food/month distributed

IMPACT recently received the 2023 Award for Outstanding Non-Profit from the Greater Oro Valley Chamber of Commerce. In 2019, they received Tucson Metro’s Copper Cactus Award.

IMPACT also co-owns the Golden Goose Thrift Shop. Proceeds from the store cover all of IMPACT’s administrative costs, so community donations and AZ Tax Credits go 100% to hands-on programs. This means that every dollar donated goes directly to help clients!

The Golden Goose — a large, tasteful-looking thrift store — has earned too many awards to list here. It has long been an OV community favorite.

“Food First”

Executive Director Barbara McClure tells another story about a first-time client that walked into IMPACT. Barbara greeted the woman by saying, “I’m so glad you are here today!”

Surprised, the woman asked, “why would you be glad?”

“Because we are going to help you,” Barbara answered with confidence. “We have so many resources and partners – whatever challenge you have, we will be able to work with you to resolve it.”

The genius of IMPACT is that they have broadly partnered with government and non-profit services to be able to refer their clients to any kind of help they may need. IMPACT’s ability to serve the local rural population is particularly valuable to county and municipal service providers, who have partnered with the organization to serve people in these less-centralized populations.

IMPACT also has a time-proven program to serve clients that has three components:

  1. Food
  2. Budgeting
  3. Moving Forward

“Food First”

It all starts with the food bank, which is open for 30 hours per week.

  • Food can be requested at any time
  • Baby food and formula is always available
  • Any family earning <185% of the official poverty rate is eligible

Clients of the food bank receive a card that they can use to “shop” for food (there is no charge, of course). They are then allowed to select – based on family size — a certain number of items from different food categories. IMPACT has thus replicated a true customer shopping experience. “Our clients love that part!” Barbara exclaims.

Senior Moments

Not every client is able to come to the food bank. For example, many seniors have limited mobility or may be housebound.

Today, IMPACT hand-delivers more than 450 re-heatable meals every week. Over the past 20 years, they have delivered more than one million hot and frozen meals to seniors!

Barbara tells the story of one man from South Tucson whose self-appointed act of community service is drive to IMPACT to get food for three seniors.

“That’s a long drive, and there are food banks closer to your home,” an IMPACT volunteer pointed out.

“Yes, but IMPACT has the best food of any food bank in Tucson,” he answered. “More importantly, no other place treats us with the dignity and respect we feel here.”

Happy Meals

And then there are the students in Title I public schools that receive free lunches. For many families, this ensures that their children will be fed when they go to school. But what happens when school is out?

When Barbara’s team looked at this situation, they considered the limitations with the “backpack meals” that some children of Title I schools are given to take home over the weekend. They discovered that many of these students were giving this food to other family members, such as younger siblings. IMPACT resolved to offer more.

“We said, ‘we are going to feed everyone in the house during those school breaks’,” explains Barbara. “We do it every week of summer. We just did spring break last week. We also cover two weeks over the holidays, and one week during fall break.”

Now during the 14 weeks of the year when school is closed, IMPACT provides two big boxes of food each week to those families. The boxes contain two breakfasts, two lunches, 2-3 dinners….and snacks for the whole week.

IMPACT has relationships with counselors at the local Title I schools who help identify student families that may benefit from extra food support.

Budget-Stretching 101

The food bank is a logical “front door” for IMPACT’s clients, because food is an essential part of any family budget.

“Getting $100 of groceries means that you can budget money for other needs, like medicine, or school supplies,” explains Barbara.

This is a concept that IMPACT applies to all types of expenses: any necessary item that IMPACT can help provide to a client relieves pressure on their family budget.

“It’s easy for us to see what the client needs, and to go get that help,” explains Barbara. “We find partners to help them stretch their income.”

Some of the basic expenses that IMPACT helps with include:

  • Clothing and footwear
  • Toiletries, diapers
  • Child vision and dental
  • School supplies

Novel Solutions

There really isn’t a gap in a family’s budget that IMPACT won’t try to help with.

For example, IMPACT provides two pairs of reading glasses for schoolchildren. Again, their network of counselors at schools allows them to identify needy students.

When Barbara’s team learned that 70% of rural children were not read to at-home by their parents, they began a program of offering two books per month so that families could put together a home library for their kids. Clients get to choose titles that are interesting and engaging, which helps promote a love of reading. IMPACT offers a similar book program for seniors.

IMPACT also helps with client-specific needs, such as car repairs for a client who needs to drive to work. And sometimes there are surprise windfalls, like the time Chris Edwards of Tucson Appliance donated a bunch of refurbished washers and dryers that were given to families in need.

Moving On Up

The most ambitious and open-ended part of IMPACT’s three-part process is the final step: “Moving People Forward”. This is where IMPACT strives to provide more long-term support for clients once they’ve helped stabilize their finances.

“We can’t expect our clients to come back in a month and have tackled everything,” says Barbara.

She provides an example: “Some clients may get a new job, but they don’t have the right clothing for the workplace. We can help them bridge the gap with work clothes until they get their first paycheck.”

A few of the many longer-term ways that IMPACT supports clients include:

  1. Job Resource Center (including interview skills and clothing)
  2. Substance abuse, mental health support
  3. ESL, citizenship, ID
  4. Workshops (e.g., managing debt, budgeting)

Dream Jobs

IMPACT strives to help its clients find – and maintain – good jobs. Barbara explains:

“We are trying to help clients find good-paying jobs that are in high-demand. For example, we partnered with Pima Community College Fast Track to offer a 12-week robotics certification to meet the high demand for these workers. This was a wonderful opportunity that most people would not be aware of. We also help with the computers and transportation to the training.”

Barbara recalls one example of a long-term relationship with a client that led to a new career:

“We had a wonderful mother with twin girls. The father left when the twins were a year-and-a-half old. For eight years she came in for food and clothing. Then one day she looked at the job board and there was a notice about caregiving. She remembered that she always wanted to be a nurse. Today, she just successfully completed the nursing program at the University of Arizona. IMPACT helped her get funding for her last two semesters. We even bought her scrubs.”

The Dream Team

With less than a dozen full-time staff, IMPACT relies on 170-180 volunteer shifts every week.

“We are short on managerial staff, long on dedicated people who want to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” says Barbara.

IMPACT is always looking for good volunteers – and there are a lot of ways to help. In addition to ongoing, weekly 4-hour volunteer shifts, IMPACT also can use help with events, administration, and packing bags of food.

Some volunteers have been at IMPACT for 15-20 years. “They love to develop relationships with our clients – to be able to make a difference in their lives.”

Barbara speaks from personal experience: she originally started 15 years ago as a food bank volunteer herself. Today, she is the Executive Director and has successfully grown the operating budget over 500%. She’s also instilled a culture of deep humanity and care.

“The great value of IMPACT is treating all people with dignity and respect,” says Barbara. “It is the cornerstone of what we do. No judgments are allowed here.”

Make a Difference

If you are interested in volunteering at IMPACT Tucson, please visit this page.

By Tom Ekman, J.D., M.ED